Piper Alpha tragedy still in Aberdeen’s DNA, says writer

A fire burns on the North Sea oil rig Piper Alpha after an explosion July 1988 which killed more than 160 people

A fire burns on the North Sea oil rig Piper Alpha after an explosion July 1988 which killed more than 160 people

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The writer of the first novel about the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988 says the tragedy is woven through Aberdeen’s DNA.

Iain Maloney, whose book The Waves Burn Bright is published by Freight Books next month, said just about every family affected in some way by the disaster is having to cope with the post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experienced by many of the survivors.

Iain Maloney, who has written a novel on the 1988 rig disaster that killed 167, tells of impact on families

Iain Maloney, who has written a novel on the 1988 rig disaster that killed 167, tells of impact on families

A total of 167 men were killed following the explosion on the offshore oil and gas platform in the North Sea, 120 miles from Aberdeen.

The novel centres round Marcus Fraser, a fictional geologist who was on the Piper Alpha on the night of the tragedy, and who suffers post traumatic stress disorder and then attempts to cope with the psychological aftermath by turning to alcohol to block out the memories.

His marriage breaks down and Carrie, his teenage daughter, is left to cope with him after her mother leaves home. However, Marcus eventually agrees to counselling and writes a personal account attacking the “profit-over-safety” motives of a number of oil companies and details how the disaster affected him: “I went into the office every day, the scars on my hands, the stink of drink off me, the chance that I could lose it at any moment.”

Maloney, who grew up in Aberdeen and whose mother was on duty in the intensive care department at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary the night the Piper Alpha survivors and dying were helicoptered in, said: “Piper Alpha is in the personality of the city. It is right through the core in the same way as Lockerbie or Hillsborough.

“There is hardly a family in Aberdeen not connected to Piper Alpha. My mother couldn’t sleep at night after nursing these guys with horrific injuries.”

Maloney said he had deliberately not contacted Piper Alpha survivors’ groups.

“I thought about it. But I didn’t want Marcus or Carrie to be based on anyone there. If I met them I might have made me include their stories in the novel. I worried they might regret it later on.”

Dr Mary Brown, broad­caster and former lecturer in psychology at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, said the extreme stress and trauma of an incident like Piper Alpha “can run through generations”. “After Piper Alpha there was a lot of people who didn’t think it was culturally acceptable to talk about their emotions of what happened that night.

“While there were those who took help, the families of those who didn’t were left ‘walking on eggshells’ worried about antagonising their loved ones. This means relatives, mostly the wives and children, are in danger of gradually ending up subordinating their whole life to avoid aggravation.”

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